Golden Gate Bridge is for many people the thing they know about San Francisco. We went to see what the bridge is like. In addition we wanted to see the other Golden Gate area sights.
We walked across the bridge and along San Francisco coast and had a great day out. And there was so much more to see in the area. There was a large green area with good walking trails streching all along the coast. And there is the Golden Gate Park with its ponds and gardens. And the Palace of Fine Arts and its Corinthian columns.
This post presents a driving route in the Golden Gate area on the westside of San Francisco.
San Francisco itself has much to offer the first-time visitor. You can read about San Francisco sights in my previous blog post San Francisco Sightseeing. That post is about driving around Central San Francisco, but now: time for the Golden Gate area sights.
Map of the Golden Gate Area Sights
The map shows the driving route I recommend you to follow to explore the Golden Gate area sights.
This a driving route since we used our car but it could be bike route as well. In addition we walked quite a bit. No problems at all with driving or parking in this section of San Francsico so go ahead!
The route starts at the Palace of Fine Arts at the city edge. The Palace of Fine Arts is where the Presidio, the huge park south of Golden Gate Bridge begins. To visit the Palace the best place to park your car is the Yacht Harbor. Parking in the Yacht Harbor parking area was free.
The harbor is pretty and attracts locals and tourists alike. Some of the tourists rent really small vehicles.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area begins here. There are lawns for sports, playing and picnic. A great place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Depending on which direction you turn to you can enjoy a park view, a bay view, a Golden Gate Bridge view or the city skyline. Just cross the street and walk a bit and you’re in the Palace of Fine Arts.
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace differs a lot from all other buildings in San Francisco and I would place this kind of monuments in Europe. Why is it here then?
It’s a fantasy monument built for a Pacific-Panama Exposition held in 1915. The original idea was to celebrate the opening of the Panama canal and at the same time bring San Francisco back on the map after the 1906 earthquake that destroyed a lot of the city.
The Palace consists of different constructions that are reflected in a lagoon with ducks, goldfish and fountains. You can see the high Corinthian columns of the Palace in the upper picture.
Around the lagoon is a lawn and a walkway. Perfect for a short walk for those who like fairytale surroundings.
You can even have a wedding party in the park and bring your just married balloons and bike.
Behind the Palace of Fine Arts is the science museum Exploratorium that offers a huge number of interesting exhibitions if you’re interested in science.
Crissy Fields is the next grassy area towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s a good place for public happenings and private picnics. Here are also some small beaches that are in fact the closest beaches to the city. Crissy Fields is called the city’s front yard. People are gathering here.
We saw a lot of cyclists here just like we did earlier in the Marina area. They were biking along the Golden Gate Promenade that follows the bay shore for 3 miles (5 km) from the city.
Lots of people had rental bikes which sounds like a good idea. You can rent a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf in the city or Marina Green and spend a day biking to the Golden Gate bridge and further. You can cross the bridge by bike, there is a bike lane, and bike the same way back or alternatively take a ferry from Sausalito.
Warming Hut Cafe
After the Crissy Fields there is what looks like a small village of white cottages. There is a cafe called the Warming Hut Cafe where you get meals and coffee. We parked our car here and had a picnic on the pier. We were so close to the Golden Gate Bridge. And the bridge looked just great from here!
But can you get still closer to the bridge? After these white cottages we discovered stairs leading up to the hill towards the bridge.
San Francisco Bay Trail
The stairs brought us to the surfaced San Francisco Bay Trail that in fact runs round the whole bay.
The foot trail winded up to the Bay Trail bike route and on to the South Vista Point where bridge crossing begins. Lots of people walking here on a sunny day and the views were great all the way.
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge is huge and it is the symbol of San Francisco and the United States. The bridge has a beutiful strong red color.
There are six lanes for cars, a bike lane and a lane for walkers. Cars pay toll but only southbound, on the way back to the city. You’re supposed to pay beforehand on the web or by phone. If you only drive north you don’t have to worry about arranging payments.
Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge
We started walking along the bridge and stopped now and then. Fisrtt we walked to the first steel towers, then to the midpoint and then to the second towers. It was so fun to walk in the fresh sea air and the views were so breathtaking that we couldn’t stop.
We walked all the way across the strait and then back. That was a good walk. The bridge is 1,7 miles long (2,7 km). But walking definitely is the best way to see the bridge
Above in the photo is the first huge suspension tower. It’s 227 m high – and it’s hollow. The bridge opened in 1937 and it was the largest single span bridge in the world. Now it’s the third largest.
One more view towards San Francisco before we leave the Golden Gate Bridge. No wonder this bridge has been named one of the modern wonders of the world.
Can you see how thick the steel cables are? The length of steel wires used for all the cables is enough to circle the earth three times. Extra strength is needed because of the strong ocean currents, the winds and the possible earthquakes.
This photo shows the whole bridge and the 1861 Fort Point building below. The photo is taken from the Fort Point Lookout that is the closest spot where you can observe the bridge before getting on the bridge.
We left the Golden Gate Bridge, got our car and took Lincoln Boulevard south. Below us was the long sandy Baker Beach and soon we came to a rocky high hill called Lands End.
Lands End it as historic place, many shipwrecks have occurred here when ships have tried to reach San Francisco without navigators, in San Francisco fogs and ocean storms.
Lands End is a good spot to park your car if you want to walk on trails on the cliffs.
Here is link to route description of this section of San Francisco coastal trail. The trail goes from Point Lobos in the south to Golden Gate (and on to San Francisco).
Point Lobos is where the long coastal park ends and the Ocean Beach begins.
There is the Cliff House restaurant with fantastic ocean views and the Sutro Baths that once was a beautiful covered saltwater swimming pool. Sutro Baths were destroyed by fire and only the ruins are left.
The Point Lobos area is very pretty and so is Sea Cliff that is a luxurious neighborhood north of Point Lobos. Sea Cliff certainly has many of the most luxurious homes in San Francxisco.
In this picture you can see the Cliff House and the Pacific Ocean.
San Francisco Ocean Beach
Much of San Francisco’s shoreline is rocky and steep and there are not many sandy beaches on the ocean side. But further south is the huge Ocean Beach.
You don’t see people swimming on San Francisco beaches, the air is often foggy and the fog makes the air cool. Even on sunny days and in the middle of the summer it’s chilly. Those that swim wear wetsuits. The beach is also dangerous for swimming because of rip currents – but you can do other things, sunbathe, jog or have a beach picnic.
When you see this windmill it’s time to turn inland, this is Golden Gate Park.
The windmill was a gift from the Queen of the Netherlands when the Golden Gate Park was built. There are two windmills and park also has a Dutch tulip garden.
Golden Gate Park
In the 1860s San Francisco’s citizens started to demand same kind of amenities that other cities offered.
At that time New York was getting its Central Park and some years later San Francisco was going to get its Golden Gate Park that here on the wasteland.
You really leave the city behind in Golden Gate Park. You are in a forest, among meadows, small lakes and old-style gardens. Golden Gate Park became one of the world’s largest urban parks, it’s three miles long and half as wide. It has winding roads for you to drive along and bike trails to cycle on.
You can watch buffaloes graze in the Bison Paddock. The animals were brought here in 1892 when buffaloes were almost extinct. As a result they now roam here and look happy, and people are happy to look at them.
Another stunning nature sight in Golden Gate Park is Stow Lake. Stow Lake an artificial lake but never mind. It’s in the middle of a lush forest and looks very green, it is deep green.
Stow Lake has a Chinese moon-watching pavillion and two stone bridges to an island that’s called Strawberry Hill.
You can rent a paddle boat and glide on the water and try to make contact with water birds. I liked these water birds, they came so close and stared at me.
In addition Golden Gate Park has a pretty Japanese Tea Garden with pagodas and bonsai trees, Conservatory of Flowers that is a copy of London’s Kew Gardens, a Giant Tree Fern Grove and an Arboretum with Botanical Gardens. Nature lovers could spend a whole day in Golden Gate Park.
Of course I’m a nature lover too but it was getting dark at this point and the park attractions were suddenly closing. Too early…
But I was thinking back on what all we had been doing today. The day spent exploring Golden Gate area sights was a great day outdoors!
You might also be interested in these articles:
Read about other sights in San Francisco in my blog post about San Francisco sightseeing:
And here are two day trip suggestions from San Francisco: